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Tom Bradley, Mayor of Los Angeles

  • By Dave Greenwald
  • Published Feb 1, 2001 8:00 AM

In his eulogy for Tom Bradley, former Vice President Al Gore quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And so, said Gore, “it did for Tom Bradley, whose whole life was a testament to justice, hope and an audacious faith in the future.”

Audacious faith was, indeed, pure Bradley. In high school, he ignored his guidance counselor’s advice to stick to vocational classes. Instead, he pursued his dream of going to college and in 1936 won a scholarship to UCLA. As a Bruin he excelled not only scholastically but as a track star.

Beginning his career as a police officer, then as a lawyer, Bradley was elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 1963. Six years later, he challenged Mayor Sam Yorty in a contentious election heavy with racist rhetoric. Bradley lost. In 1973 he ran again and this time broke through the color line, the first African-American mayor of a major U.S. city. Bradley went on to serve five terms. He was 80 when he died in September 1998.

Wendy Greuel ’83 was an intern in Bradley’s office while she attended UCLA and later served on his staff. Shortly after his death, she wrote that Bradley “was as proud of his connection to the university as he was of his beloved city of Los Angeles.” She recalled how “he would talk to young people about reaching their potential and not giving up hope. He was an inspiration to kids who didn’t believe they had any hope of succeeding in life.”

Bradley set a different tone for Los Angeles politics. He was credited as a coalition builder and unapologetic civic booster who expanded social services to the urban poor and spurred economic growth. Under his watch, Los Angeles gained international prominence. The skyline changed as towering office buildings sprang up downtown; airport and port became booming successes.

In 1982, Bradley lost a bid for governor by less than 1 percentage point. He lost a second time in 1986.

Bradley considered his personal triumph - “the highlight of my entire political career” - the acquisition of the 1984 Olympic Games for Los Angeles.

“It was very difficult to get the games,” he said. “I had opposition from politicians and from the public in Los Angeles.” But the Olympics turned out to be a phenomenal success, even producing a $250-million surplus for the city.

The most difficult moments came in the last years of his tenure. More than 50 people were killed in the civil unrest following the acquittal of the police officers involved in the Rodney King beating.

“The April unrest tore at my heart, and I will not be at peace until we have healed our wounds and rebuilt our neighborhoods,” Bradley said in September 1992, announcing he would not seek a sixth term. “Let us all, every one of us, pledge to make Los Angeles a beacon of mutual respect, justice and tolerance from this day forward.”

Hope over despair. That, said Gore, would be Bradley’s most enduring gift to the city he served.